Are books fading in importance? A growing number of book shrines that have won architectural acclaim around the world suggest quite the opposite

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The iPad has definitely affected the relationship we have with books. While many suggest that the book as it currently exists will fade out of existence, its staying power and ability to adapt to the era in which it lives is surprisingly strong (see article here). Moreover, the relationship that a reader has with a book is surprisingly intimate, which is helped through the analog textual interaction between reader and book. While there has been a study that shows that reading on an e-reader increases reading speed (see here), the preference for a simple book still persists. Beyond the the textual appeal, there seems to be a value placed on a book that an electronic version simply doesn’t match. The variety in sizes, typography, layout, photography, etc. creates a sense of true noticeable uniqueness. In other words, the design aspect of the book has strong emotional power. In a world putting increasing value on design aesthetic, the book has consumer power.

The shrines of the book are not known to reflect its appreciation as an object of design and aesthetic pleasure. As such, many of the libraries and bookstores are not set-up to merchandise and celebrate the role it currently plays in culture. They reflect a time of less openness and less interactivity which results in very stuffy and isolating environments. However, there has been a movement to create true temples of literature that pay homage to the informational, cultural, and aesthetic richness of books. At these libraries and shops you are inspired not just what is inside the cover, but by the journey to get to each cover.

The Stuttgart City Library
The entire venue makes the books the heroes. With walls of white, the color is provided by the books. The staircases flow noticeably from floor to floor facing the atrium inviting guests to explore every bookshelf. Moreover, the staircases are arranged in a way that resembles the iconic MC Escher painting. The architecture firm is called Yi Architects.

Tama Art University Library
Church-like in its appearance, this building is a true worshipping ground for book enthusiasts. Situated in Tokyo, the design of this library encourages exploration which reflects the stories in the books that are found wrapped around the concrete pillars. The huge arches create a gothic temple feel that is both humbling but also reflecting, a wonderful state of mind for getting lost in literature and other wonderful books. The architect is Toyo Ito.

University of Aberdeen Library
Working with an open atrium in the same vein as the Stuttgart City Library, the books are hero. Each floor has clear site into the shelves of books and the working spaces are weaved throughout but accessible to the atrium as a way to invite further reading. The winding design acts liking a hypnotic spiral allowing you to get lost in the space and the information displayed in all the books. This stunning structure was designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects.

Livraria Da Vila
This architectural masterpiece is found in Sao Paolo, Brazil. What better way to pay homage to the book than make them the entrance doors of a store. Much like the Library example shown above, the design ensures that there is visibility between floors to truly hero the book wherever it is in the building. The sea of books is far from overwhelming, it is almost relaxing and comforting. The design was done by legendary Brazilian architecture firm Isay Weinfeld.

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Situated at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut, this building seems more like a government building or phone company systems building, but once inside the grandeur of the structure can be truly appreciated. An open atrium is once again used. Here it is essential because it allows the only light from above to come streaming down illuminating the columns of books (the side windows are made of marble). The books are housed in a central cube area that feels like one of those “centrifuges” in the Death Star (Star Wars). ┬áJoking aside, the content of the building is truly treated and showcased like the jewels of the Royal Family. A true ode to the book. The building was designed by Priztker Prize architect Gordon Bunshaft of the firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill.

The Cathedral Book Store
Literally a temple of reading, this restored cathedral in Maastricht became a book store thanks to an inspired Dutch book company called Selexyz. The religious theme not only influenced the placement of the book shelves, but also the design of the coffee shop inside and the reading areas. It is a place to get lost and appreciate book after book. A wonderful nod to the book’s past and a celebration of its appreciation now and in the future. The design was by Dutch company Merkx + Girod.

Book Mountain Library
Located in in Spijkenisse, Netherlands, this library has won international acclaim for its environmentally-considered design. The pyramid structure seems fitting given the wealth of information stacked in a central cube-like structure (similar to the Beinecke Library). Above the books is a large resting area that faces the warmth of the sun where you can enjoy your reading and a nearby skyline. The architecture firm who designed the building is MVRDV.

El Ateneo Grand Spendid
This bookstore in Buenos Aires is considered one of the word’s most beautiful bookstores. It was originally a theatre where the some of the nations great dancers performed. Its second life as a bookstore is fitting, given that the stories of the books that its sells are very much deserved of a stage. Again, there is a central open theme so that the books are the “actors”. The store was designed by Fernando Manzone.

As you will have noticed from the selection, there are several recurring themes such as central atriums, central cube-like book shelving structures and making the book at the center of the design rather than simply an item for sale. All are giving emotional value to the items for sale (or for lease) by giving them respect and appreciation in the way that they are displayed. Absolutely brilliant.

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